Thursday, November 22, 2012

Why Only New Toys?

Twice in recent days I have encountered requests for toys (in one case also books) to be given away, presumably to children whose parents are poor. In both cases, the request was put in terms of new toys—in one, specifically unopened new toys.

Our children are both in college, and we have a lot of used toys and books lying around; my guess is that the purchase price of all of them would add up to several thousand dollars. We have given a few to grandchildren, and would be happy to pass on most of the rest to other people who had a use for them. On the other hand, we are quite unlikely to spend several thousand dollars buying new toys to give away to strangers.

I expect there are a lot of people in our situation, hence that a request for donated toys would get a lot more without the requirement that they be new. Which leaves me wondering why that requirement exists. Is the assumption that the recipients, or their parents, unlike my older son and his children, are too proud to accept used toys? Is there some legal restriction, justified on grounds of safety or prevention of contagion and actually due to pressure by toy companies who want to sell more toys? Or is there some good reason that I am missing?


Anonymous said...

Thanks for expressing views I've held for a long time, but have been too "chicken" to say. We have seven kids and every one of them have been given Xmas & birthday gifts from garage sales, Goodwill, and hand-me-downs. If it's been good enuf for my family, then it's good enuf for charity too.

David O. said...

This is almost certainly because of the liability risk of giving away a toy which had been recalled.

Donating an older toy that had been recalled due to lead, for example, would obviously be a serious liability problem for the charitable organization.

Over the years, there are so many toys that have been recalled for so many reasons (big or small, justified or not), that it would simply be impossible for a charitable organization to keep track which used toys are safe and which are not, going back 20, 30 years or more.

For this reason, many GoodWills do not accept donated toys.

Nathan said...

Maybe they're worried about this sort of thing?

Jeanne Whitmore said...

Why new toys? Because we are a wealthy country and giving used toys when we have so much money is really cheap. Why can't a poor kid experience getting a brand new toy and unwrapping it to take out of the box. It is a joyous thing for a poor child to finally have something, anything that no other person has used before, that is bright and shiny and new, That doesn't have someone else's fingerprints, or spit or smudges.

If you want to get rid of your old toys, take them to the local thrift shop.

Eric Goldman said...

Many old toys will be incomplete or missing key parts. Eric.

Anonymous said...

It is extremely frustrating for a small child to receive a toy or a game that has missing parts or is broken or does not work properly. For charities to ensure that the toys are all unbroken, working properly or have no missing parts would be a big expense in terms of time, so it's just easier for them to accept only new toys.

Tibor said...

Nathan: Well, I think the red cross or similar organizations that have those containers in which you can put your old clothes (that they subsequently give to orphanages, homeless and they hand them out in the cases of natural disasters) must have a few employees (or volunteers) who sort that stuff. I imagine there is going to be a lot of absolutely useless stuff in those containers and also I guess they wash the clothes. So you can have the toy charity to do the same thing.

Tibor said...

Pantry Raider:
Well, it is a question of magnitude. You can raise a certain amount of money to buy a certain amount of nice new shiny toys for poor kids, or you can have more toys (for more kids) of which some are new (I suppose some people would still prefer to donate money, either because they do not have any toys or because they feel the way you do, some might donate some money and some old toys) and some are not. Again, you can have volunteers put those into nice shiny boxes (even though all the toys might not be in perfect condition) which really don't cost almost anything (and can be financed by some of the donated money). This is not about wanting poor kids to have bad toys. It is about enabling as many of them to get some toys at all (or more of them in a optimistic scenario). I too recall having occasionaly been given old toys (after my cousin or even my father) and I liked them as much as any other (actually I liked my father's railroad model set much more than any other maybe except for some legos some of which I also got as used).

Speaking of legos, that is obviously a case of things that can be easily recognized and for what I know, none of them are hazardous in any way (just some parts are supposed for kids of the age 8+ or something...). I have a huge box of old legos of mine at home, I will probably not play with it myself and since I am 23, it will be at least another 10 years before I have kids old enough to be able to play with legos (although accidents happen :D ), I would be happy to give it to charity. It has some semtimental value for me (which might be the reason people don't take the toys to the local trift shop like you suggest), but that would be greatly surpassed by the feeling that it made some kids happy (that would not be the case of the railroad though, that I would not give up) who otherwise couldn't have it. I might actually try to find out if there is any such charity around...

I do not want to accuse you trying to get poor kids fewer presents. I know it may seem to some people at first glance like "throwing bones to the dogs," but you should look at the actual consequences not just the impressions. This is the same reason I just hate hygienic norms (in EU, I dunno about US) that say you cannot sell expired food. I worked as a part-timer in a mall one summer and I had to throw away a lot of perfectly good stuff. And the mall actually had to pay a garbage company to deal with it. I would not buy already expired food but if it is my fridge a day or two after it is due (and doesn't smell funny) I eat it anyway. The mall could give it to salvation army or someone similar and save money that they now pay the garbage company and the salvation army would save money on food for the homeless and could spend it on other projects. More often than not, what seems like concern for the poor (and the intentions may as well be good) turns out to have quite the opposite effect (whether it is salvation army having less resources, poor kids having fewer toys or something very different).

Tibor said...

(if I am going to spam it here, I might as well do it thoroughly :D)

Anonymous: That is exactly the same case as with the red cross accepting old clothes, shoes and such. There have to be people who sort it out. I doubt it is all that expensive for the charity and especially before christmass they could easily find very cheap labour in volunteers to do that job. Also I believe it is much more frustrating not to get any toys at all (for christmass for example) that toys that may not be in a completely perfect state (I assume the volunteers sorted out those that do not work at all or could be dangerous).

So far, the reason I find the most plausible are the various safety regulations and restrictions and a possible threat of a lawsuit or (even worse for a charity - which is an organization based entirely on reputation and trust of other people) a media scandal that both can mean serious problems for the charity.

Phil Birnbaum said...

My gut says, a gift has to be new. It's nothing specific to toys, it's specific to the fact that it's a gift.

Even rich people don't give each other used things. It's more appropriate to give a new tie than a used iPad, even if the iPad is worth ten times as much.

I don't know the reasons for the social norm ... maybe used looks like you just didn't need it any more? Or maybe it looks cheap, like, why not buy a new one instead? Dunno.

Whatever it is, it's probably especially important if the gift is for a child, and/or from Santa.

David Friedman said...

The restriction applies to books as well as toys. Books are unlikely to be missing parts or hazardous, so I don't think those can be a complete explanation.

William H. Stoddard said...

There was a vigorous discussion of this online a few years ago, which I heard about from a friend who does crafts projects (she made a marvelous stuffed toad for my girlfriend).

Apparently there was a big scare about lead in children's toys imported from China by Mattel. In response, the federal government enacted a law that required any product that might be used by children to be tested for lead content, at the expense of the producer. This is obviously an overhead cost that weighs much more heavily of craft workers who produce small batches than it does on large firms that produce thousands or hundreds of thousands. At the extreme, a person who produces one stuffed animal now has to produce two, sell one, and submit the other for testing—and the price of the one sold has to cover both toys and the lab fees. Or so it was explained to me.

This also applies to toys donated to thrift stores, which are normally donated one at a time, of course.

This is supposed to make children better off, but of course it both reduces the supply of neat custom toys for children with artistic parents, and reduces the supply of cheap thrift store toys for children with poor parents.

It may not be a surprise that Mattel itself was exempted from the testing requirement. They got permission to test their own toys in labs that they funded in overseas locations.

You can find the story in a Reason article at .

Anonymous said...

@Phil Birnbaum: actually, my friends and I have been giving each other "used things" for years. We have such an esoteric collection of hobby interests that sometimes the perfect book or CD is one that's out of print (and then there's vintage jewelry, china, artwork...). So far, no one has complained :-)


Jeanne Whitmore said...

Tibor Mach:

I just don't think the "there will be more toys to go around" argument really hold. I suspect there are more people willing to give a new toy than there are kids who need toys.

If kids want more toys or their parents want to get them more toys then they can go to the local thrift store and pick up your gently used toys.

Regarding getting used toys that are treasured from family members. I agree with you. I have a doll that is a complete horror, but it was my sisters and I would never give it up. She didn't even want it and was throwing it in the garbage.

If you are going to wrap up a present than it should be the best you can reasonably afford to offer. For most Americans, that is a new toy.

jimbino said...

Can't they just call the old toys "antiques"? I've seen lots of them, some worth thousands, on Antique Road Show.

Tibor said...

Pantry Raider:

I dunno, maybe there are enough people to give enough money to make sure all those poor kids get the presents they want, maybe not. I don't have any evidence for either conclusion. Maybe you do. But one thing is probable. If you accept even used toys, you get more of them. That can mean giving more presents to the kids (I am mainly talking about kids in orphanages), toys that would otherwise be unused.

I don't think kids "need" any presents. I don't like the word need (unless used in the way "you need something in order to something else"), since it suggests that it is just something that has to be no matter what. To give an extrema example, in a case of a widespread famine, you will hardly worry about kids not having presents.

Finally, USA (or the Czech republic for that matter) may be rich enough to make it possible to buy a lot of nice and new toys for all the poor children trough charity, but it is not infinitely rich. Spending money on this means it will not be used on something else. Let's say I am willing to give 100$ to charity alltogether and have a bunch of old toys at home I have no use for. I could spend the 100$ on toys for kids, or I can spend that money (or part of the money) e.g. on cancer research charity and give my old toys to the children. They may not like them as much as they would like the new ones, but they like them anyway and I managed to support the cancer research as well. That way, from my point of view, I allocated my resources in a more efficient way than by buying new toys while not helping the researchers and while having old toys I have no other use for at home.

Jonathan said...

I can understand giving away new toys if they're unwanted gifts. But does anyone go out and buy new toys specifically to give to charity? Really? Perhaps only in the USA...

Jonathan said...

If a charity is giving toys away, it should be allowed to disclaim responsibility for functionality and safety. If it isn't allowed to do that, the law is an ass.

For myself, if I give something away and find myself being sued as a result, I'll learn my lesson and never give anything away again.

Tibor said...

Jonathan: Well, in the Czech republic we have that too :) These are mostly in the form of christmass trees in shopping malls and some anouncements that say you can buy presents from a wish list that will be given to orphans somwhere or something like that. I think these are usually joint initiatives of some charity organization and of the shopping mall (for which it is a good and cheap way to boost sales before christmas).

I don't think the problem is that the donors might be held accountable, but the charity will. Even if not by law, it can be by the media which is potentionally even more devastating than a lawsuit. A charity that nobody trusts is as good as dead. As David pointed out - this argument doesn't work for some things such as books (but I think it gives at least a partial explanation)...also hardback copies of books (unless you have a cat with access to the books, apparently...) look often almost or entirely as good as new even after some years of use.

Anonymous said...

I am amazed in general at how much gets spent on toys for children, especially very young children. Five-year olds do not know what they want, and would do just as well with a cardboard box as they would with most of the toys they get.

Jeanne Whitmore said...

Dear Tibor Mach:

I understand your point.

You value cancer research over Mega block space marine soldiers. You are sadly mistaken and need to rethink your priorities (being snarky.

Personally I would rather buy a cancer patient a new toy than buy a cancer researcher a new toy for Christmas.

Tibor said...

Pantry Raider:

Well, that was only supposed to be an example, it does not have to be cancer research in particular - replace it with anything you find at least as meaningful contribution as the difference between an old and a new toy.

My point is that if I can use my resources to do more good at the same cost, I will prefer it to doing less good for the same cost. I assume that I giving away my old toys is something almost costless as they have no value for me anymore (except for those special few with sentimental value I would not give up anyway) and their value on the market is negligible, so selling them and using the money somehow is not an option. You can even use the 100$ on new toys if you consider that the best way of spending that money AND at the same time donate the old toys as well. But you do not have that option when noone is accepting old toys. That is the whole point.

Anonymous said...

Sadly, "poverty" in any real, dictionary related sense doesn't exist anymore in most industrialized countries, including the US. Most of the poverty is psychiatric, like a homeless veteran who is currently a derelict due to shell shock and alcoholism (all are simultaneous variables - but the shell shock is probably the root).

I'd venture to guess that the people getting the toys are not that poor at all, but just less wealthy than middle class. Product liability is still a valid explanation.

Anonymous said...

I think it's for the impact of receiving something new and entirely their own. Those living in poverty tend to receive more hand-me-down and second-hand items in general.

For a child who wears only clothing that his older siblings wore, and most of whose toys are also his siblings or from thrift shops, the joy is in receiving something that is new and that they can call only their own (it was never anyone else's in any real sense, even though it was purchased by another and owned by at least that other and the charity).

My high school often ran fundraising drives for charities that stated a similar sentiment as their reason for requesting new items (not just toys).

There exist a wealth of resources to find used items.